April 2010 issue

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Sporting draw

Major sporting events can have a real benefit for the language teaching industry in the relevant host country, as students can get involved with attending and even working at the event while brushing up on their language skills. Matthew Knott reports.

Every couple a years a major sporting tournament provides its host city with prestige and excitement, the cream of the world’s sporting talent, the global media’s attention and an influx of foreign visitors. Such events also offer a number of opportunities and challenges for the local language teaching industry.
Tournaments don’t come any bigger than the Summer Olympics and the 2008 Beijing event was arguably the most spectacular to date. According to data from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), 99 per cent of the available tickets for events at the iconic Birds Nest and around the city sold out, while footage was broadcast on TV in over 220 territories.

Bumper enrolments
Alongside this, Laura Goodwin, Programme Advisor at China Study Abroad (CSA), also reported some record-breaking figures. “In comparison with our 2007 enrolment, we had an overall increase of 80 per cent for total summer enrolment,” she reports. CSA also found a very clear desire from students to be close to the action. “During summer 2008, the majority of our Beijing programme participants had part or all of their programmes overlap with the games. For enrolment, we had nearly 3.5 times more students in Beijing than in our Shanghai programmes, which we do attribute to excitement surrounding the Olympics,” she affirms.

While the Olympics focuses eyes on one host city, the Fifa World Cup spreads the action across a whole nation. Fifa figures show that the 2006 event in Germany featured three million match spectators, countless more at country-wide Fan Fests and a cumulative global TV audience of 26.3 billion. In 2002, when Japan co-hosted the World Cup along with South Korea, the country experienced a 21 per cent increase in foreign student numbers according to Japan Student Services Organisation (Jasso) statistics, the largest jump ever recorded.

Schools in South Africa, stage of this year’s first-ever African-hosted World Cup, will be hoping that the superstar quality of Beckham, Ronaldo and Kaka will also attract a sizeable contingent of students. Organisers expect an influx of 450,000-to-500,000 fans. “There has been a huge increase in the interest shown in South Africa directly as a result of the 2010 World Cup, and we have already seen our numbers up significantly at the start of this year as South Africa becomes the focus of the sporting world over the next seven months,” reports Craig Leith, Principal of Good Hope Studies and Chairman of EduSA (Education South Africa).

Sports-led learning
The possibility of running special tournament tie-in courses and events is one obvious possibility for schools. In Beijing, CSA offered a “Summer Study and Travel plus Olympics Program” which Goodwin explains, “included guided travel for two weeks to Xi’an, Shanghai, Guilin, and Yangshuo, and then a four-week study component in Beijing during August – giving programme participants the chance to experience the host city while it made its final preparations and held the 2008 Olympic Games.”

The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics furnished Tamwood International College with a chance to offer enticing Olympic programmes. Tamsin Plaxton, Director of Sales and Marketing, says, “We are the only school located in both Vancouver and Whistler (where a number of the events are taking place). We have offered a “Whistler Olympic Fun” programme, that is similar to our usual work and study programmes in Whistler, in collaboration with Go International. Participants can work in the mountains for the ski season. With the Olympic programme, the students have time off during the games to study and take in the events.”

Lianne Hodgson, Marketing Director at International House Whistler, says that they launched their own mini-games. “Students from various countries formed teams

and spent an entire day on the mountain, participating in about eight different winter sport events such as ski and snowboard races, jump competitions and more. The students really got into the spirit and had coursework relating to the games.”

Even the build-up to the main event can provide entertainment for visiting students. Leith explains, “The (World Cup) final draw in December 2009 was particularly exciting and we were able to take our students to this event so that they could be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience!” 

Harnessing new markets
The dedicated fan-base attached to events such as the Winter Olympics and the Fifa World Cup may also provide a boost in particular markets. For example, no global soccer festival would be complete without the yellow and green of Brazil and South African schools reported an early interest from the Brazilian market. However, Leith cautions that they have had to advise many potential clients that due to security requirements necessitating passport numbers to purchase tickets, schools are unable to offer pre-arranged match ticket/study packages. Tamwood International College, meanwhile, has experienced a noted increase in student applications from Switzerland, Spain and Japan in time for the Winter Olympics.

Tourism tightrope
As well as the spectators, there is also an army of staff and volunteers involved in major sporting events and this represents another area of potential for the international education sector. “Tamwood was also involved with providing volunteers for Jetset Sports, a company that handles corporate hospitality for all the Olympic tournaments,” Plaxton comments.

However, attitudes towards sporting tournaments are not always entirely positive. A report by the European Tour Operators Association (Etoa) suggests that the tourism boom often associated with the Olympics may be illusory, and indeed that hosting the games may be counterproductive with general tourism disrupted.

The report shows that tourism in Beijing in 2008 was down 18 per cent for the year as a whole, and the month prior to the opening ceremony was 30 per cent lower than 2007. United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) statistics show that international tourist arrivals fell by 1.7 million for China in 2008. Figures from the World Economic Forum (WEF) also demonstrate that Greece suffered a visitor dip in 2004, the year of the Athens Summer Olympics, before climbing afterwards. It should be noted, however, that WEF figures also show France, Japan, South Korea and Germany experiencing increases in the year of hosting the World Cup.

Nonetheless there is some evidence that student enquiries from particular student profiles can dip prior to tournaments. “Although some markets increase, others shy away and there can be a drop leading up to the games,” Plaxton explains. “Many people wrongly assume that the city will be more expensive in the weeks beforehand.”

While the euphoria that grips the country may be exhilarating for some, it also

causes some headaches for the industry, often disrupting everyday operations. “We [anticipated] challenges in student accommodation, transport to and from school, attendance, staff requesting time off, distractions from studies, flights and crowding,” explains Jim Clark, President of Canadian College of English, Vancouver.

For Tamwood, accommodation was a particular concern. “Sourcing homestay families is difficult for the games and we [were] forced to offer higher pay,” Plaxton explains. She was also expecting a logistical nightmare when roads and areas of the city closed down.

There are, however, a number of indirect benefits from being a host city/country. Investments in infrastructure can be unprecedented, totalling over US$3 billion in Beijing, according to the Chinese government audit bureau, for example. A long-term effect of the Japan/South Korea World Cup was increasingly cordial relations between the two hosts. “The World Cup increased interest in Japan among Korean people and the relaxation of visa regulations made it easier to come,” explains Shiano Oyama from Tokyo’s Kai Language School.

Another bonus can be official promotion of the host country’s language itself, such as the government-launched “Oui je parle Rugby” campaign to promote learning of the French language in time for the 2007 France Rugby World Cup.

Industry benefits
Perhaps the positive afterglow of the successful hosting of a tournament is the greatest benefit to the industry. LTM’s Market Report on Germany in February 2008 reported continuing student increases attributed to the World Cup. Hopes are high in Vancouver for a feelgood factor generated by the Winter Olympics. Plaxton advises, “We expect a two-to-three year uptick of interest after the Games.” Clark agrees, “The language travel industry in Vancouver will be highlighted in media coverage and ‘Vancouver as a study destination’ will be showcased to millions of young people and their families throughout the world.”

For Hodgson, any disruption is well worthwhile. “Of course the daily lives of the staff and students will be affected for the 2.5 weeks during the Olympics, but this is far outweighed by the significant success we expect to experience in the next three-to-five years,” she says.

There are also grand expectations in South Africa. Leith explains, “In terms of long-term benefits for South Africa and the EFL industry, we think there is no doubt at all that the finals will put South Africa firmly on the map and in the minds of international visitors”.

Student Viewpoint

“My name is Renato Uchikawa and I’m from Brazil. I decided to travel abroad because I felt I was missing an experience from overseas in my life. The positive things such as culture, diversity, amazing quality of life that I heard about Vancouver made me choose to come to this beautiful city. Vancouver hosted the Olympic Winter Games 2010 and I got a job to be part of this huge event with the help of the Tamwood work programme. As the days went by, the excitement of the event filled up every city corner; it is amazing to see all the citizens are proud to be Canadian and support the Canadian athletes.”

Renato Uchikawa, Tamwood International College student, Brazil

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